Explore Normandy and northwest France
   
Le Choisel is a spacious holiday home ideal for a myriad of different holiday adventures. Pick the theme ​
French military and industrial history
and use Le Choisel as the central base for your Normandy holiday exploration:
From Normandy battle sites from WWI and WWII to a wealth of industries and the people behind them all, the area abounds in ​places and artifacts to fascinate, inform and capture your imagination.  
    
Move in from landing beaches for the rest of Battle of Normandy
Bells, lace, pots and mining - a heritage Normans are proud of
Mention Normandy and World
War II  and most people think
of the heroic D-Day Landings.
Military history buffs, current
and former service men and 
women and their families all
come and visit the beaches,
but there is much more to
discover if you come inland
from those beachheads.
    The Normandy Landings began on June 6th, but the Battle of Normandy  raged on for nearly three months as the Allied forces slowly pushed back the German troops.
   Those three months saw fierce battles taking place around the region with loss of life on all sides. It is the reason why virtually every town and village in Normandy has its own memorial to pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate price.
    For anyone interested in World War II, exploring the D-Day beaches is  just the start to the story. Looking at maps outlining the battle sites and the way the troops were moved around in their attacks and pincer movements, it shows the



















   Over a period of six nights in August 1944 the 30th Infantry Division fought against the German Panzer counter-attack “Operation Lüttich” to preserve the breakout that had been established in Operation Cobra.
    Outnumbered and virtually surrounded, they valiantly struggled on, held their ground and outfought the enemy.
    Meanwhile, the area from Mortain, through Domfront and across to Argenton then north 
through Falaise up to Caen saw
heavy fighting in what became
known as the Battle of Falaise 
Pocket or Falaise Gap. This was
a section where the Germans
tried to maintain a corridor back
to the Seine either for further
troops and supplies, or as an
escape route. 
    The Battle of Falaise Pocket is
usually referred to as the decisive
engagement in the Battle of
Normandy. It pitched Allied troops
from Britain, US, Canada and
Poland against German forces in
9 days of bitter fighting.
   Gradually the gaps were closed and around 50,000 Germans were trapped inside. Two days later the Allied liberation of 





















The museum, which only opened in 2011, was the brainchild of Romain Bon who started collecting object that he found from the last war. As word spread, locals contributed items and stories about those days of war and victoryand so his collection of items and information grew and the little museum gradually took shape. Nothing was bought to complete the museum’s collections; all items were either excavated in the area of Berjou or donated from private collections, giving a unique and highly personal feel to the displays.
 Normandy has been known for centuries for industries linked to agriculture, from making cheese or biscuits to distilling the golden liquid that takes the name of one of the departments: Calvados.
    Of course, alongside the latter’s distillation is the production of Pommeau de Normandie and cider, and many of the distilleries offer tours and tastings.
    Although agriculture remained important, industries such as weaving, lace-making, metallurgy, ceramics, shipbuilding and even sugar refining, were introduced and developed. Following the French Revolution, there was an economic revival thanks to things like the mechanisation of textile manufacturing.
     All round the region you can trace its industrial past in various museums
set up to celebrate
topics from lace and
clock making to
iron ore and fossils,
there's a museum
in Normandy
dedicated to almost
any subject.
These include:
  • Museum of Pre-history outlining the tools and thinking of Neanerthals;
  • Museum of minerals and fossils;
  • Ecomuseum of bees and beekeeping;
  • Regional pear museum;
  • Typographic printing museum;
  • Time and Space Museum tracing clocks and watches from 17th-20th century;
  • ​Regional pottery museum;
  • Sée Mill Eco-museum telling the story of local people and industries and located in a disused paper mill;
  • The Iron House charting the history of iron in the region;
  • Museum of Vire based in an 18th century former hospital showcasing collections of fine arts, decorative arts, history and ethnography describing daily life and old trades from the 19th century.
wealth of tales to be told in every corner of the region. For instance, ​you can reminisce with locals as you enjoy a pint in the pub in Ger whose WWII claim to fame is that it was the regional SS HQ.
   Nearby, Mortain was the site of a major  battle between German and American forces. It began two months after the Allied landings, and was described as the first large scale German counterattack since those landings. The 30th Infantry Division had been fighting hard: it had made possible the capture of St Lo, took part in the Breakthrough Operation and fought hard at Tessy-sur-Vire. To give the troops something of a breather, it is said that General Hodges moved them to a place he thought would be relatively quiet – Mortain!
Fine French lace fit for an English Queen
Both the towns of ​​Alençon and Argentan were centres of fine lace-making for centuries, with their exquisite products adorning the noblityof the French and English courts.   
     During the reign of Louis XIV ‘royal lace workshops’ were established in Alençon in 1665 so that the local lace-makers could copy the Venetian style that was so popular at the time. Within a decade, they had taken the techniques used by the Venetians and modified them to produce their unique style. That style became known as “point d’Alençon” but was often dubbed the “Queen of Lace”. However, it was Argentan lace that Queen Charlotte used in her wedding train in 1760 when she wed George III.
     Argentan lace was produced
from the 17th century onwards
and reached its peak of popularity
in both the French and British
courts in the mid-18th century.
     Lace went into a decline after
the French Revolution but took an
upturn with the Second French
Empire (1852-70) before heading
for terminal decline with cheaper
machine-made lace at the end of
the 19th century.
     One of the famous Alençon lace-makers was Marie-Azélie Guérin Martin whose daughter is better known as Saint Therese of Lisieux. Perhaps that is why the Carmelite nuns in Alençon ensured the technique was preserved, even if it was on a much smaller scale.
     There are lace museums in both Argentan and Alençon. The Maison des Dentelles et du Point d'Argentanis, set on the edge of the Noé park in a 19th-century bourgeois house,  recounts the history of Argentan lace from 17th century to today through a unique collection of lace examples.
     In Alençon  a National Lace Workshop was established in 1976 to ensure this lace-making technique survives. There is also a permanent exhibition of lace and a display showing how it is made in the Musée des Beaux Arts et de la Dentelle, located in the town centre and adjoining the workshop. The workshops are only open on certain days. In 2010, UNESCO recognised the unusual craftsmanship of this lace and added it to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.    
of Paris was complete leading a few days later to the end of ​​Operation Overlord.
   Tales of battles and skirmishes that made up the Battle of Normandy, are told in museums around the region including: the Memorial Museum for the Battles of Normandy in Bayeux, Landing Day Museum at Utah Beach, Museum of the Occupation at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, Museum of the Liberation at Cherbourg, an  Airborne Museum at Sainte-Marie-Eglise, and Memorial Museum of Omaha Beach at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer.
   One of the newest museums to open, the Museum of Liberation, is also one of the smallest. Located on the heights of Berjou 

around Conde-sur-Noireau, it recounts the ​Battle of Noireau, described as ‘the last bloody battle before the closing of the Falaise Gap’. The battle saw troops of the 43rd Wessex Infantry Division and the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry- 8th British Brigade, pitched against the last German fight groups.
Discover potted history
For more than ​​​500
years, potters
gathered in the 
hamlets around the
town of Ger to 
make stoneware
pots that supplied
virtually all of
western France.
    These pots made

it possible to preserve the cream, butter and beverages produced by the region’s rural communities, and transport them not only throughout Normandy and Brittany, but even as far as the New World!
    At its peak in the 19th century, this pottery centre had more than 700 potters, making it the most active centre in the region. Today the site is home to the “Musée Régional de la Poterie” (Regional Pottery Museum).
    Visitors enter the potters’ courtyard, master potter’s house, drying room and bakery, see 18th and 19th century tunnel-kilns, and learn about pottery in the region from displays of the museum’s 3,700 items.
    Yet it is not all historic – it is a centre of modern-day ceramics, with a shop selling locally-made pottery and ceramics. The museum is open April to September.

Gallant newspaperman forever remembered
The Stars and Stripes fly by the roadside heading into Domfront, but instead of being a monument honouring a platoon or division, it marks the place where a newspaperman and theatre critic ​​​​died serving his country. 
    Morton Eustis came from an old Virginia family; his father had been a serving officer in the US Army Expeditionary Force 1917-1918 and his mother’s father was Vice President of the US.
    A military career might have been the obvious course but, at 28, Morton joined the editorial staff of the Theatre Arts Monthly in 1933 and enjoyed years of success raising the publication’s profile and reputation.
    Nevertheless, in 1941 he left to serve with the US Army and in August 1944 1st Lieutenant Morton Eustis was in Normandy.
    On August 13 1944, he was in the lead tank as C Company of the 82nd Armoured 
Reconnaissance Battalion
​advanced towards Domfront.
Just after crossing  a ford on the Varenne River, they met German forces and the lead tank was hit by a missile, instantly killing both Lieutenant Eustis and Sergeant Platoon.
    Morton Eustis was awarded the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action”.

Centuries of mining for you to explore
Iron ore mining has been taking place in the Orne from medieval times until 1978 and you can visit the old furnaces and workshops or see its history charted in the displays in ​​​​La Maison du Fer (House of Iron) in Dompierre.
    The iron ore was formed 470 million years ago and mined from the Middle Ages to the middle of the 19th century as you can discover in visits to sites around the mining centre of La Ferrière-aux-Etangs.
     La Maison du Fer offers a panorama of the history of our ironworks and iron mines and the permanent exhibition answers questions like: Where does the ore come from? How is iron made? What is the job of miner and what are the conditions of work '' at the bottom ''? ...
    Displays of tools, helmets, miners' lamps, wagons, take you back into the mining epoch of the region, and a large model of Saint-Clair-de-Halouze iron mine makes it possible to understand the operation of the mine. A film, made from archive images of the mines of Saint-Clair-de-Halouze and La Ferrière-aux-Etangs and from testimonies of former miners, traces the history of the Orne’s iron mines.
    For the more energetic, there are circuits designed for visitors on foot, in a car or on bikes that allow you to trace ‘ancient metallurgy’ through the remains of the different workshops, forges and houses. The most popular for visitors is the Forge de Varenne, described as “the most complete and best preserved forge in Europe”. Visitors can see a blast furnace, refinery forges, blacksmith's house, coal and iron halls, blacksmith's chapel and cereal mill. Then explore the La Butte Rouge kilns in Dompierre.  This was a ​​​​​​​​pioneering calcination site in Normandy where, from 1901,  the iron content of the ore was enriched before being sent  to the blast furnaces in northern France.
Uncover heroic tales
Look beyond the global view of either the first or second World Wars, and what tales of heroism and sacrifice will you uncover?
    For instance, the war memorial in Lonlay l'Abbaye has a plaque to the American airman in thanks "for our liberty" dated August 8 1944.
    As you ponder who those nine airmen were and what they did, you might look up to behind the memorial and notice the street name sign on the wall opposite: Place Jules Levée.
    Then look back at the memorial and notice that three names are listed under the heading 'Guerre 1939-1944', and one of those is Jules Levée.    
Other sites to visit:
1. Pithead St-Clair-de-Halouze
2. Furnaces at Châtellier Bocagerie
3. Mining of La Ferriere-aux-Etangs
4. Miners’ houses in Gué-Plat.

Taste our history at the pear museum 
Many years ago, it is said, a European called Malus Sylvestris had an encounter with an Asian called Malus Sieversii. We have been enjoying the fruits of that encounter ever since for the “offspring” are known today as ​cider apples!
    It is all part of a story that is told (conveniently in both French and English) as you wander round the Pear Museum – the only one of its kind in France! Although we begin with an apple anecdote, as the name suggests, the main focus of attention at the museum is on the pear trees for which this region is justly famous.
    Pear trees have been grown in Normandy for ten centuries although traditional orchard style cultivation only started in the mid-19th century. This specific area of “Mortainais-Domfrontais” is said to have a near perfect match between geology and climate for perry pear production, and the statistics underline that: some 100,000 trees of more than 100 different varieties.

In honour of a million battle-weary civilians 
Around a ​​million civilians were caught up in the action as troops fought pitched battles throughout Normandy, and their story is told in the Mémorial des Civils at Falaise.
    The aim of the museum is
to highlight the daily life of
the civilian populations and it
is fittingly based in a city that 
witnessed terrible scenes of
battle that left around 80% of
the city destroyed.
    The ground floor of the
museum shows films edited
from English, French and
German archive footage and shown where the remains were discovered of a house that had been bombed in 1944.
    The first floor shows the complicated situation for the civilians who not only suffered the horrors of war, being under occupation for years and then seeing their towns and cities destroyed by bombing, but then had to start the even longer and, for some the harder, process of rebuilding their lives and their homes.
    One such town that was hit hardest after the Allies arrived to liberate them but which literally had the “Resistance” to rise determinedly from its ashes, was Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët.
    On 14 June 1944 the town felt the full force of WWII with 78% of the town destroyed by intense Allied bombing and the fires that followed.
Until then, Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët had survived occupation reasonably unscathed.  The occupiers left the farmers continuing their normal peaceful life in Normandy countryside, unaware that under their noses three Resistance groups had been formed and were all very active from 1943.  
   These Resistance members enthusiastically supported the Allies landing, causing as much mayhem as their limited resources allowed.  But the carnage of June 1944 was entirely unexpected. When the town was finally liberated on 2 August 1944, Saint Hilaire du Harcourt was unrecognisable.  
    The townspeople were determined that it should it be rebuilt and life return to ‘normal’ as soon as possible. To that end, the weekly agricultural market quickly returned.  It was a clear sign of survival but also of chaos with herds of cattle and sheep piling through paths cleared in the rubble, to the now roofless church on what is today the Place de l’ Hotel de Ville.
 ​  ​​The pear museum was completely renovated in 2016, and takes visitors on a tour tracing the history of growing pears and making the pear cider that is emblematic of Normandy. 
    The trail begins outside and meanders through orchards of apples and pears where bi-lingual information plaques tell the story of growing the fruit crops. The trail then moves into the various farm outbuildings where displays illustrate the historical and current process of turning fruit into the golden liquid that is on sale in the museum shop.
    The tour is free and the museum is open each day from 10am-1pm and 2-6pm. There are also special events staged during the year.

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